Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Book Review: The Masked Rider.

There oughtta be a law. Some people are so talented that they must be stealing from others.

Neil Peart's cup runneth over. Not only is he arguably the greatest rock drummer (Rush), his lyrics often transcend genius. (Check out "Limelight" from Moving Pictures sometime.)

Add to these nearly criminal talents an ability to turn a phrase in prose. Here's a descriptive example: "By mid-morning the heat had become an electric blanket, and even the trees appeared to droop over the roadway, wilting in the humid swelter." (p. 10.)

Mr. Peart's, The Masked Rider, Cycling in West Africa, constituted his first published effort as a prose writer. He chronicled his arduous bicycle trip with four others in Cameroon in 1988. The tour was billed as the "the most difficult bicycle tour on the market." (p. 5.) After two (2) years of marketing to North America, the guide could garner only four (4) customers. (Id.)

Somewhat surprisingly, the book took eight (8) years before it was published in 1996. The book offers his reflections as he interacted with the climate, culture, conditions and companions on the tour. It functions as a memoir, travel guide and autobiography.

As to the latter, we learn that Mr. Peart was raised in a "nominally Protestant" family. He provides religious and philosophical reflections that might surprise. For example, he expressed how he was touched participating in a vespers service in a Catholic church in Africa.

Also, he intersperses passages from Artistotle's Ethics, which he read while on the tour. He quotes from the timeless masterpiece thusly: "Every rational activity aims at some end or good." (p. 49.)

Then, he opines: "I might have stopped right there. That statement alone could give me enough to think about for the whole trip. If not for a whole life....Okay, what is 'good'? ...I knew that Aristotle considered the highest good to be happiness. That helps. So every rational activity should aim at happiness. That makes sense. Let's try the second sentence. But what -- is it always true? Reading Aristotle, for example, certainly one of the most rational of activities, does that really aim at happiness? Enlightenment; stimulation; distraction; hopefully education--are these happiness? Ah, no. But they aim at happiness. Every word counts." (pp. 49-50; emphasis added.)

Mysteriously, this type of philosophical rumination occurs mostly in the first half of the book. He appeared to lose interest in engaging in this type of cogitation as the book unfolded. Instead, he would return to almost unidimensional portrayals of his traveling companions. For example, he traveled with "The Complainer". He spared no space reminding the reader of her constant harangues. Perhaps he did this to make the reader as weary as he was enduring it in real time. He nearly succeeded.

In sum, the book demonstrates a gifted thinker and writer giving a glimpse into his unusual life. I recommend.